disclaimer: if you are the subject of one of these interviews and you do not want it posted here, please email me and let me know. i will take it down, no questions asked. [phinkasaurus at gmail dot com]


quotes and ideas

this wonderful list of improv [life?] quotes and sayings were lifted from a good friend's facebook page.  i bolded the ones i love.

Here are some improv quotes. They might also help with life.

Today’s the day, right now’s the time, something wonderful happens.

Your prime responsibility is to support.

Listen like a thief, play like a paranoid and notice everything, make everything a big deal.

There are people who prefer to say “Yes,” and there are people who prefer to say “No.” Those who say “Yes” are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say “No” are rewarded by the safety they attain.

There are no mistakes, only gifts and happy accidents.

 If you think you have to do well, you will have fear.

You can basically get away with anything onstage as long as you are pleasure to watch.

If everyone justifies everyone else’s actions, there are no mistakes.

Improv takes place in the present tense.

If you're vulnerable as an actor you steer the character's vulnerability. You'll see the emotional turns clearer, which means you'll make the scene changes that keep the scene alive, instead of holding onto your character's need to be right, or seen as smart, or seen as sexy, or seen as brave, or seen as interesting, or seen as wise, etc. Epiphanies and revelations occur because we're open for them, not because we're holding onto past issues and emotions that no longer guide the scene. Your feelings have changed, so you are now in relationship to those new feelings. YOU, not your character. Keep in mind your character wants everything to be AOK all the time. That's why we watch a scene, to see the character struggle with their past and a new present "truth." Surrender and your scene will certainly move into a new direction because you're not dealing with stale "emotional information."

The audience laughs at agreement – a secret of comedy that very few people realize.

React honestly and truthfully.

Next time you’re up on stage, try this: When you start panicking, stop and wait in the silence, then look for the emotion in the scene that’s already there. You’ll find you have great stuff to work with.

Listening is not merely hearing. Listening is reacting. Listening is being affected by what you hear. Listening is active.

Enjoy things even when you’re screwing up.

Status is what you do to someone, not what you are.

Experienced performers learn that their dialog isn’t about their activity. Instead, the lines should be saved for the relationship with the other player.

The less stuff there is on stage the more verbal it gets.

Once you put your own ego out of the way, he stops judging the ideas of others – instead, he considers them brilliant, and eagerly follows them!

Don't be perfect. Make mistakes and then you're more interesting to an audience.

Great improvisors always accept the ideas of the other players without judging them to be “good” or “bad,” always thinking, “This is now our idea.”

When players worry that a scene isn’t funny, they may resort to jokes. This usually guarantees the scene won’t be funny.

Where do the really best laughs come from? Terrific connections made intellectually, or terrific revelations made emotionally.

A scene is almost never about what the players think it’s going to be about.

There's a lot of laughter that goes on. Since we're laughing together, we're true community. It's a very safe place to confront your fears. The minute somebody says, "Perform!" your fear comes up.

Listen, react, keep it simple. 

The truth is funny. Honest discovery, observation, and reaction is better than contrived invention.

You do not have the right to use this art form to feel bad about yourself. You don't have permission to disrespect yourself.

I think many of us go through our life not fully having permission to be who we are and what we're going to become. Most of us are often looking for approval. We hate it when we're not approved of. It's that approval that has us in our minds worrying about what we're doing as we're doing it, trying to figure out whether or not it's appropriate or will be accepted. We walk through our lives like we're on our first date. Trying to see if we're appropriate and trying not to step on other peoples' toes . . . you know, cautiously, prophylactically, for fear of not being approved of. In this work, there's only approval.

Acting requires presence. Being there. Playing produces this state.

When we’re relaxing, we don’t have to entertain each other with jokes. And when we’re simply being ourselves up to each other and being honest, we’re usually funniest.

Be ugly onstage. Be pretty at the party afterward.

The Hokey Pokey. Think about it. At the end of the song, what do we learn? What is it all about?... You put your whole self in!

‘How am I doing?’ reflects the obsessive approval/disapproval syndrome.

No one will ever follow you down the street if you're carrying a banner that says, "Onward toward mediocrity."

The base of the work is one of individuals believing in themselves, trusting themselves in the moment and being accepting of themselves and the people around them. In order to improvise in front of an audience, you have to be accepting, involved in the moment and courageous. Those issues, when transferred over to general communication, makes the communication richer and helps in all areas of life.

Don't be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, & every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.

Let’s try and create scenes that are about something... About something deeper than this ashtray.

A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player.

You know what intimacy is? It's into-me-you-see... it's allowing someone to know who you are when you have all these defenses to keep them from knowing. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group, that’s teamwork. Each of us is unique, and if we don't respect that uniqueness, if we don't allow that which we are to surface, then the world doesn't have it

[Hu]Man's maturity: to have regained the seriousness that [we] had as a child at play.

Improv needs all of you- your behavior, not your description of your behavior.

A comedian who tells jokes is basically a salesman, trying to sell the audience a clever story or punch line, while hoping to be paid back in laughter.

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

The tiniest, teeniest emotional discovery that's real beats the hell out of the biggest discovery that's phony.

No matter what the setup, however, the event is crucial to every scene – the situation that makes this day different from all the rest. This is where the action begins.

Nothing we say to each other is innocent of emotional manipulation.

Improvisation is not just cleverness- it's an actor living his life onstage.

I am more interested in Why than How.

Fall, and then figure out what to do on the way down.

What the audience laughs at and, indeed, cheers, are moments of discovery, moments of connection.

It is easy to become deluded by the audience, because they laugh.

Be a raving paranoid onstage; nothing is taken at face value, nothing is tossed aside.

Never underestimate or condescend to your audience.

You are all supporting actors.

Trust. Trust your fellow actors to support you; trust them to come through if you lay something heavy on them; trust yourself.

Don't bring a cathedral into a scene. Bring a brick; let's build together.

Find out what's inside you and what's true, as compared to working so hard on the fake.

Improvisation is not writing... we build, create, grow scenes as no writer could ever imagine.

Never enter a scene unless you're needed; you're always a supporting actor.

Avoid judging what is going down.  How you can support it imaginatively if your support is called for?

You have to see an object to use it. Give it an adjective. Is it cold? Heavy? Broken?

Effort is ugly.

What do you want to fuck with? Fuck with it more.


Comes a day you're gonna have to decide whether it's about you or about the work.

How you do what you do is your character.

Life is what happens while you were making other plans.

Ride the horse in the direction that it's going.

If you think a little bit about science, medicine, shame, sexuality, mortality, fear, power, and God, then "proctologist" can be a pretty good suggestion for an improvised scene.

 Make the scene about the two of you.

Choose to be intelligent and play to the height of your intelligence.

Take the active as opposed to the passive choice. You are free to choose--it means you are in an existentialist state.

The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.

Oh alright stop! Alright stop! Well, you've ruined a perfectly good scene with your inane pop culture references!

Make strong statements instead of apologetic questions.

Never enter a scene unless you are needed.

No scene is ever about the words being spoken. It’s how you say it, not what you say it.

Is what we're doing comedy? Probably not. Is it funny? Probably yes.

Treat your audience, and your fellow actors, like poets and geniuses.

Don't ever think this journey is about you. It's about everyone around you.

Don't invent... DISCOVER.

Improv is emotional connections.

Theatre is truth. Either please the audience or disturb them.

Where do the really best laughs come from? Terrific connections made intellectually, or terrific revelations made emotionally.

I don't care if it works for the audience; I care if it works for us.

I think you should reveal more of your emotions, both on-stage and off. You'll be a better person and a better performer.

Use your brain and open your heart.

If you fall out of a plane, why not somersault and laugh all the way down?

Don't let them make you believe the lie that what we're doing is for the laughter.

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

You're only limited by your lack of imagination and your fear of looking stupid.

If you are in a scene and you say the word "but" and it doesn't precede something like, "But it's on fire" "but I love you" "but I found the missing piece" or anything else that adds to what is already going on, then but = "I don't care what you just said or did I had something in my head I wanted to say or do so I'm going to do or say it." It’s like kicking your scene partner in the dick.

Theater Games are a process applicable to any field, discipline, or subject matter which creates a place where full participation, communication, transformation can take place.

For the skilled improviser, however, time slows down (rather like in The Matrix). They see a palette of possibilities in front of them and make instant connections, using what they have.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artists once we grow up.

Certain kinds of speed, flow, intensity, density of attacks, density of interaction... Music that concentrates on those qualities is, I think, easier achieved by free improvisation between people sharing a common attitude, a common language.

If it feels weird, do it more. 

Work on the sidelines, relax on the stage.

If you're not connected to the group, you're not improvising.

If you're not having fun, you're the asshole. 

Inspiration trumps obligation.

If this is true, what else is true?

There's no such thing as a wrong note; it all depends on how you resolve it.

Dance in the body you have.

Listening is the willingness to change.

Go deep, rather than broad.

Improv is just choice plus commitment.

What happens in the ensemble work is that in a cooperative work, the power of communication in being with each other in acceptance and "yes, and"-ing each other, is that you as an individual start to believe in yourself because you begin to see yourself in the others' eyes. Your ensemble, your group, your team, your committee, is the one that's believing in you and you pull it together to do it for them. You know, it's simply recognizing you're not alone. I'm way out in theory here; it's the study of what the power is, the power in improvisation and why it changes lives.... I'm crazy about it, and that's why I've dedicated my life to the study of it. The power is love, if you want to know the truth. It's love and unconditional acceptance. You put yourself in a place of support, unconditional acceptance and love for who you are, the way you are and your uniqueness, and what you do is grow. You surround yourself with people who are truly interested in you and listen to you, and you will grow. And it doesn't take much to start advancing you, it doesn't take much of that support, it doesn't take much of that love and that care and you can do it. You can play act with people. You can be in a state of play together.

As with any ensemble, it is the team effort or the group effort that makes the individual grow or look good. That's what the center of this work is all about, what these games and exercises are all about... breaking down barriers between people, empowering the individual to believe in their own associations and ideas, uncovering the courage to create, the courage to communicate.

Fuck it. People don’t judge my mistakes unless I telegraph that I’m an idiot.

Lately, I have been noticing that students in my improv classes feel they have to create some sort of problem at the top of the scene. They’ll say something like: "You didn't pay the rent," or "Oh, great you broke the TV, now what?" or "I broke Mom's favorite vase." This is not a good initiation. A better one would be something where you state how you’re feeling about the other person or noticing how they’re feeling. You could say, “I feel hurt you didn’t come to my birthday party,” or “Boy, Carol, you look sad today.” I can't think of anything that will bring a scene to screeching halt faster than INVENTING some problem. By inventing a problem, you automatically put the other players into plot mode. Instead of improvising, they will be desperately trying to "play write" themselves out of corner. Plot is death to improvising. I have even seen scenes going along nicely and then out of nowhere one of the players will slam on the brakes by manufacturing some cliché problem. It's tragic to watch. Why do improvisers do this? The simple answer is fear. We are afraid that nothing is happening in the scene, when really, the opposite is true. Instead of taking a couple of seconds to breathe and focus on our partner, we’d rather rely on our cleverness, our words, to force something into the scene that doesn't belong. Forcing something, like "You broke my mom's favorite vase" or "You did not pay the rent again," makes us feel safe and in control, and in the process we stop improvising. We traded the feeling of "being in the moment" for the illusion of being in charge. Of course, there are other reasons improvisers create “problems” on stage, too. Are you the type of person who is always creating problems that you can avoid the connection and the joy in your life? If so, then chances are you may be doing the same thing in your improvising.

All improv seems to turn into anger. All comedy improv basically turns into anger, because that’s all people know how to do when they’re improvising. If you notice shows that are improvising are generally people yelling at each other. When you improvise on the spot, people are very reluctant to have soft moments or quiet moments or sad moments because they’re trying to fill up the spaces. So they always go towards, “How come you’re late?! You’re supposed to have my shirt ready! You call this a dry cleaner?!” You know? That’s what happens. That’s why improvising on the spot gets very dicey.




Kyle Anderson

Kyle lives in chicago and works with The Second City as a stage manager and lighting designer.


Joe Canale

Joe lives in Los Angeles and works with iO West and Second City Hollywood.